Here in a nutshell is the state of play in the 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes: alleged serial sexual harasser Herman Cain is being surpassed by confirmed serial adulterer Newt Gingrich. With Mitt Romney stalled and Cain hemorrhaging support from women voters, polls last week from CBS and Marist showed the former House Speaker had surged into a virtual three-way tie at the top. By Monday, new surveys from CNN and PPP showed Newt vaulting past the fading pizza maker. Nevertheless, that development should be a discomforting prospect for a Republican Party which lost the women's vote by 13 points in 2008. As his public statements and personal life show, the thrice-married Gingrich is hardly a champion for American women.
That starts with Newt Gingrich's belief that marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession.
In 1980, Newt was separated from his first wife and former high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley. As she lay incoherent in her hospital bed following surgery for a reoccurrence of uterine cancer, Gingrich paid her a visit to announce he wanted a divorce. As Lee Howell, a Gingrich friend and associate at whose wedding Newt was best man, described it:
"Newt came up there with his yellow legal pad, and he had a list of things on how the divorce was going to be handled. He wanted her to sign it. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.
Newt can handle political problems, but when it comes to personal problems, he's a disaster. He handled the divorce like he did any other political decision: You've got to be tough in this business, you've got to be hard. Once you make the decision you've got to act on it. Cut your losses and move on."
He moved on to wife number two, Marianne Ginther. But Marianne fared little better, getting dumped for Congressional staffer Callista Bisek after a six year affair even as Newt was leading the inquisition of Bill Clinton. As Vanity Fair summed it up last year:
According to Salon, Gingrich and the former Hill staffer (23 years his junior, mind you) would frequently dine in the Supreme Court cafeteria--an unsuspectingly sordid detail. (In 1995, Vanity Fair referred to Bisek as Gingrich's "frequent breakfast companion.") Gingrich stepped down from Congress in 1998 following an ethics scandal, among other things. The two were married two years later.
Gingrich, who swapped his Baptist faith for Catholicism just in time to attack President Obama's 2009 address at Notre Dame University, later explained that his rapid fire infidelities were the actually product of his own patriotism:
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them."
Of course, the things Newt Gingrich was saying to American women weren't any better.
As the New York Times recounted 16 years ago, Newt suggested menstruation should keep women out of essential roles in the American military:
"If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections, and they don't have upper-body strength. I mean, some do, but they're relatively rare. On the other hand, men are basically little piglets -- you drop them in the ditch, they roll around in it, doesn't matter, you know."
And for Gingrich, the biggest "infection" of them all - liberalism - caused a young mother to murder her children.
Back in 1994, after dumping his cancer-stricken first wife but before marrying his mistress following the adulterous affair that ended his second marriage, Newt pointed the finger at Democrats for the Susan Smith affair.
It was Smith who drew Americans' initial sympathy - and subsequent scorn - for her invention of a black bogeyman to conceal her heinous crime.
On October 24th, 1994, as the New York Times recalled, Smith killed her young sons, killings for which she was eventually sentenced to life in prison:
That night, investigators say, Mrs. Smith pulled her car to the edge of a deep lake, stepped out, put the gearshift in drive and let it roll down the boat ramp into the black water. Her two little boys, buckled snugly in their safety seats, died under the lake...
..."I believed her, right up to the end," said Juliaette Kerhulas, of Mrs. Smith's story that a young black man had ordered her out of her burgundy 1990 Mazda on the night of Oct. 25, then driven away with 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander in the back seat.
Ms. Kerhulas wasn't the only one who believed in her. None other than future House Speaker Newt Gingrich rushed to the defense of Smith, whose step-father ironically happened to be a prominent Republican fundraiser and member of the Christian Coalition. Even after her confession, Gingrich insisted the Smith murders showed the decay of American society under Democratic Party rule:
Enter Newt Gingrich, who rushed into action on election eve with another reliable generic culprit: society. He said the double murder "vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things," expediently adding that "the only way you get change is to vote Republican."
As Frank Rich recounted in August 1995:
Asked later by Tom Brokaw to elaborate, the Speaker-to-be cited "a direct nexus between the general acceptance of violence" and "the pattern that the counterculture and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society began in the late 60's."
Of course, the 1960's also happened to be the time when the women's movement rose to prominence. The victories it achieved for women's political equality, economic independence and reproductive rights transformed American society and helped move the nation closer to a "more perfect union."
Apparently, those epochal changes escaped Herman Cain's notice. And while Cain's is being punished in the polls for it, he is being replaced atop the GOP field by Newt Gingrich. While that may be a good thing for Tiffany's bottom line, it's a sad development for American women.